New Twists to Detroit and Des Moines Teacher Contracts

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Keeping our Tr3 database up to date is an ongoing process. In any given year our district team takes a look at scores of teacher contracts and documents, most of which are fairly standard. Recently though, we analyzed two contracts that had unique aspects worth pointing out.

Detroit - A tale of austerity
This past summer, the Schools Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts, imposed a three-year contract on the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT). Typically contracts are negotiated, but after failed meetings in June and the necessity to return the district to a state of financial solvency, Roberts acted under Michigan's Public Act 4, which allowed him to bypass the collective bargaining process. While DFT initially decried the contract as 'an act of tyranny,' things have seemingly calmed down: DFT did not go on strike as initially threatened, although there is still talk of a lawsuit over teacher layoffs from last spring.

It appears that many of the changes in the imposed contract allow the district to slash costs: the tuition reimbursement program is suspended; teachers are no longer compensated for PD outside the workday, unused sick days, loss of a preparation period or teaching classes that exceed class size limits; district-provided life insurance decreased by $5,000; and one of the biggest changes -- teacher pay was decreased 10% for the duration of the contract. Other changes include a reduction in the weekly teacher preparation time, a shortened window for voluntary transfers, and the district has reserved the right to excess or transfer teachers based on 'district policy.'

Des Moines - Redefining support and commitment
Des Moines Public Schools' contract for the current school year is being hailed as innovative due to a unique aspect: an alternative contract that first-year teachers can opt-in to for the first eight years of their careers. This is an approach we haven't seen in another district, and it's clearly appealing to new teachers, as the Des Moines Register reported that all but two first-year teachers opted in.

New teachers choosing the alternative contract promise to work for the district for eight years. In return they get salaries about $2,000-$3,000 a year above normal, though in years five through eight some of that increase depends on student test scores. They also get intense PD and mentoring--their work week is extended by 90 minutes to accommodate the PD--and a master's degree at the district's expense, which they begin working on at the end of year four and finish up in years five and six. 

After year four a teacher can opt out of the alternative contract without penalty, and the district can also revert her back to the traditional contract if she hasn't successfully finished four years of teaching and the PD program. However, if a teacher on the alternative contract leaves the district in years five through eight, she must reimburse the district for tuition spent on the master's degree courses.

Interestingly, once the teachers have earned their master's degrees they can move into other roles such as teacher-leaders and mentors, as long as they spend at least 50% of their time in direct contact with students. In year nine teachers are moved to the traditional contract.

Check out our database for more details. As new contracts are adopted, we'll be keeping an eye out for more unique features to share.

--Anissa Sepulveda

Update, 11/14/12: Voters overturned Michigan's Public Act 4 in the November 6 elections.  Detroit Public Schools' Emergency Financial Manager, Roy Roberts, has issued a statement saying he will proceed as before until a court rules otherwise.  You can read his statement here.